Cleveland on Cotton: Selloff Today, but it’s Not About Tariffs

©Debra L Ferguson Stock Images

Wow, it is already August and time for the market’s lazy lethargically dog days of trading. Yet, with 90 cents on the horizon that is the furthest thing from trader’s minds. 

Let’s hurry up and get to the August USDA crop report so the market can find its breakout above the 90 cents trading cap. At least that is what traders are hoping.

Price volatility has become common place in the cotton market as prices continue to swerve through triple digit trading most every day.

Until the week’s end the market was seeing higher highs and higher lows, the very definition of an uptrend. Yet, today’s (August 3) near triple digit selloff took much of the week’s gain out of the market. The market did manage to end the week above 88 cents. Thus, it remains well within striking distance of the psychologically significant 90 cent level. My thought: It will get there.

Tariff Talk – Don’t Buy Into the Denim Scenario

Tariff talk remains part of the background, misguided as it is relative to cotton. One misguided Bloomberg article suggested the U.S. would lose denim sales. Don’t buy into that…what they were really picking up was the minimum wage increase in California where a decent number of very small cut and sew operations are piecing jeans together.

The article was cast as a denim market share loss, when in reality they were picking up the increase in manufacturing cost of production due to an increase in the minimum wages paid in California sweat shops.

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Immigrants, mostly illegal, have priced their labor at a very low wage rate and textile sweat shops, not unlike those of decades past, have sprung up and a sub industry of cut and sew plants have blossomed. Bloomberg mistakenly took the increasing wage issue and turned it into a tariff issue.

Denim demand remains a rock solid pillow of the rally in U.S. cotton prices, and prices are higher even since the tariff talk became fashionable.

The denim market is increasing, not retreating, and cotton demand is growing both in the U.S. and globally. Market prices have climbed on the long term uptrend line. Due to the supply chain shift out of the U.S., Mexico and China are now manufacturing most of the world jeans. The tariff will tend to generate more manufacturing in the U.S. Of course, that was the general idea of the tariff as it relates to cotton. As we have stated a number of times –  cotton is generally bullet proof to the tariffs. 

Cotton Commentary

Market Going Forward

The market should be expected to remain within its rather wide 83-90 cent trading range going into next Friday’s, August 10, USDA world supply demand report. Since open interest has been increasing we should expect the market to recover from today’s slight off sell off. In fact, despite Friday’s trading in the red, the market should again mount a challenge of 90 cents.

Crop reports around the globe, especially in Texas, India, and in parts of Australia with its pre plant water issues, should keep a bit of a fire boiling under cotton market prices. Speakers at last week’s New York Stock Exchange (ICE) cotton outlook forum were unanimous that prices would most likely move above 90 cents. As expected they placed the lower end price resistance at the 82-83 cent area.


The USDA export estimate of 16.2 million bales for the 2017-18 marketing year will prove to be right on the money. I had expected to reach a revise 16.3-16.4, but USDA’s July estimate appears to be on target.  

While export shipments slowed marginally the last 3 weeks of the 2017-18, export sales for the new 2018-19 marketing season that began August 1, 2018, have been at a record pace. Sales may not reach the past 16.2 million bale figure due to a smaller crop. However, most of it, if not all, of the 2018 U.S. crop will be sold either to domestic or foreign mills.

As the northern hemisphere begins to lay-by the current crop the echoes of increased planning, especially in the MidSouth, are becoming louder and louder. Scarcity will again engulf the U.S. cotton industry in the 2019-20 season as well.


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